Cougars race record wreckers
An unprecedented 25,000 runners, hobbyists and world-record-holding olympians alike, pounded Houston’s pavement Saturday and Sunday. While most of the cameras and pageantry focused on the front-runners as the records for both the women’s and men’s marathons fell, the excitement, encouragement and achievement are for everyone, said UH chemical engineering junior Rhys Forgie.
In his third year of participation in the event’s marathon or half-marathon, Forgie said the enthusiasm of the estimated 200,000 spectators is a big help as they urge runners on by name and offer high fives to weary athletes.
‘The best part about running was the spectators. There were so many people cheering us on. They had no idea who we were, they just read our name tags,’ he said. ‘I think the encouragement from the crowds really helps to motivate me to keep me going all the way through.’
Knowing that some of the world’s top runners lead the front of the pack setting course records – Teyba Erkesso’s 2:24:18 for the women and Deriba Merga’s 2:07:52 for the men in the full marathon – is an exhilarating experience, Forgie said.
‘We had, both the men’s and women’s divisions, new records for the full marathon, which is awesome. Men’s hasn’t been set since the ’80s,’ Forgie said. ‘I’m definitely not doing it for the competition. I’m doing it just for the fun of the running, but it’s just kind of nice to know the athletes are there as well. It makes it feel part of something bigger.’
Forgie finished his half-marathon in just under two hours and quickened his pace to about 9:20 a mile from 10-minute miles the previous two years.
‘This year I was able to run a lot more quickly and it was a lot less painful,’ he said.
Houston Mayor Bill White said at a press conference Friday that the marathon, a course that takes runners through many of Houston’s highlights, is for runners of all levels, not just the Olympians.
‘This is an event that celebrates the human achievement of people who are keeping in shape,’ he said, noting the race tests the limits of the individual as well as the human race. ‘It has been transformational in their life and well-being.’
The event is also about bringing Houston together as a community and supporting local charities, director Brant Kotch said. The El Paso Corporation and the Houston Marathon Foundation gave $250,000 and $30,000 to the Hurricane Ike Relief Fund, respectively Event organizers said the money raised by the marathon will also go to more than 40 charities, and they hope to raise more than $1 million.
Each of the runners on the field represents months of training. Running is something of a family activity for Forgie, as he and his sister both ran in Sunday’s half-marathon. He started distance running three years ago with the encouragement of biology and French senior Mariana Guerrero, and the two continue training together.
‘It started off with wanting to get in shape again, because I was getting too focused in school,’ Forgie said. ‘Running is a good individual sport where you don’t have to organize a big group of people. You can go off your own schedule, so it was really convenient.’
Fitting in the training around school, family and everything else can be a challenge, Guerrero said. She starts prepping for a marathon 18 weeks in advance, and both Forgie and Guerrero said classes force them to focus their training on the weekends.
‘During the week I do shorter runs, which would be 12 to 14 miles, and I do some swimming and some weight lifting and some cycling here and there,’ Guerrero said. ‘I usually am only able to get in one or two runs during the week because I’m so busy with school, but ideally I’d like to run three or four times per week.’
Though Guerrero didn’t register for this year’s marathon, she’s participated in the past and she ran the Dallas White Rock Marathon in December. The major difference between the two cities was the energy of the crowd, she said.
‘(Houston’s) very well organized, and the spectators are amazing. They’re everywhere. There’s lots of volunteers giving out drinks, providing music all throughout the course,’ she said. ‘Dallas, there weren’t many spectators, and they would only cheer for the people they were there for.’
Different terrain can also make for a faster run, she said.
‘There’s usually records set because it’s so flat here. Other cities are more hilly. Dallas was really windy, so it was a lot slower,’ she said.
Overall, both runners said, the races may seem intimidating at first, but the hard work and long hours of preparation make for a rewarding experience.
‘It’s more painful than I expected it to be, but still worthwhile,’ Guerrero said.
Forgie said persistence is the key to reaching running goals.
‘Everybody starts off running a few miles, just running a little bit, and just keep pushing farther and farther,’ he said.
Forgie and Guerrero plan to continue running, and both will participate in the Austin Marathon in February.
‘It’s really fulfilling and totally worth it,’ Guerrero said. ‘I don’t know if it’s the endorphins you get, but you’re so happy afterward – a runner’s high.’